Katie Couric on Why You’re Never Too Old to Get Active: ‘It’s So Different Than When Our Parents Were Aging’

Katie Couric shares a refreshing take on aging ahead of the 2023 National Senior Games, including how she builds physical strength after recovering from breast cancer...and the buzzy summer sport she's a self-proclaimed "fanatic" for.

Getting older doesn’t have to mean losing your spark. In fact, it doesn’t even have to mean getting slower, weaker or less energetic. If you need reassurance that age is just a number, you don’t have to look farther than the National Senior Games, a competition for athletes over 50 which promotes “healthy lifestyles for adults through education, fitness and sport,” according to its website. Competitors qualify at a state level in individual, team or non-ambulatory sports—which include swimming, basketball, power-walking, non-ambulatory cornhole, and more. Winners then advance to the national competition that takes place July 7-18, 2023 in Pittsburgh, PA.

Ahead of the games, 66-year-old journalist and wellness advocate Katie Couric spoke with several athletes about their experiences finding passion and purpose through sport as they age. Couric dished on those conversations with The Healthy @Reader’s Digest, as well as what inspires her most about the National Senior Games—and how she works to stay vibrant and active for years to come.

5 Healthy-Aging Lessons From One of The World’s Five Blue Zones

Katie Couric on staying active at every age

The Healthy @Reader’s Digest: We loved working with you in March for Colon Cancer Awareness Month, and we were thrilled you wanted to talk with us about the National Senior Games. What about the event inspired you to participate?

Katie Couric: Well, I’ve been working with Humana for about three years now, and they do such incredible work with everyone, but particularly with older Americans. I found out about the Senior Games, and we thought it’s an incredible meeting place for a lot of people who are continuing to be active and vibrant and really participating in society. I love the idea of giving many of the competitors a real purpose in life, and at the same time allowing them to stay active and healthy. So I profiled three of the participants: One family that’s going and two individuals. It was really fun and it was incredibly inspiring, and I think it will motivate a lot of people who feel like it’s too late for them to be super active to rethink that because all of them are really amazing athletes and also just amazing role models for all of us no matter what our age.

People Who Did This One Thing at Age 50 Were the Healthiest at Age 80

The Healthy: Vibrant aging is a concept we totally embrace. What do you think is different about the spirit in which Americans are aging today compared to decades ago?

Katie Couric: Oh, I think it’s so different. I’m not sure if 80 is the new 40, but I do think that people are taking much better care of themselves. I think there’s been a real revolution about diet and exercise compared to when, say, my parents were aging. And I think that people are super invested in health and wellness and you’re seeing that play out in people in vibrant aging, as you said. I think ageism still exists, but I think we’re starting to confront it. I used to say it was the last untangled ‘ism’ in society. And I just think that people are realizing there’s a lot they can do instead of thinking there’s a lot they can’t do.

People Who Did This One Thing at Age 50 Were the Healthiest at Age 80

Katie Couric’s fitness routine

The Healthy: Absolutely. On that note, are there any practices that you follow to try to make time as friendly as possible on your body?

Katie Couric: I try to eat well most of the time. I fell off the wagon a little yesterday, but I try to eat healthy. I try to stay active. I am trying to walk a lot because like a lot of women, I have to make sure that my bones stay strong and healthy and I just got a bone density test and I’m on aromatase inhibitors for my breast cancer and those can sometimes exacerbate osteopenia or osteoporosis. So I’m focusing on getting a lot of calcium in my diet. I’m focusing on a lot of weight bearing exercises. I try to do Pilates three times a week. I’m a pickleball fanatic, although I don’t get to play as much as I’d like to. I think for me the secret is staying engaged in what’s going on in the world. I’m interested in a lot of things, and I always say interested people make interesting people. So I’m just trying not to let anything slow me down, but I’m trying to take care of me, so that doesn’t happen before I’m ready to slow down.

A 103-Year-Old Nun’s 10 Daily Secrets for a Long, Healthy Life

The Healthy: Tell us more about your fitness habits. 

Katie Couric: I like to play tennis in the summer. I like to walk on the beach. Summer is my favorite time of year, and I also really enjoy cooking with healthy things in the summer because I love farm stands. I have a vegetable garden. I grow a lot of herbs. And for me, cooking in the summer is just a lot more fun and a lot healthier.

In terms of other exercise things I do, I just try to stretch. I’m trying to really focus on maintaining my balance, which is super important as you get older because you don’t want to fall. So there’s certain things you can do to maintain your balance. Whether it’s doing a tree pose or when you sit down and get up not using your hands—they’re just a variety of things I think that are important to do. 

Experts Say Most People Who Live to 100 Years Old Share This One Thing in Common

Katie Couric on the National Senior Games

The Healthy: We love that. What are you most excited to witness as part of the National Senior Games?

Katie Couric: I interviewed three participants, and you are going to be blown away. [DeEtte Sauer] … inspired me because I’ve always been able to “swim,” but I’ve never been able to swim for any period of time. I’ve never really been able to do laps, and I think I might be swimming incorrectly or breathing incorrectly. So I want to take swimming lessons this summer. She’s so inspirational. She just turned over a new leaf with her husband, and they’re loving life. She comes from a family where alcohol was omnipresent and she just decided one day she was going to change her life, and she did, and I think the Senior Games and having a goal has been such a huge part of that. 

Willie Spuill is another person I profiled. He was an Iraq veteran. He was having a lot of issues walking. He was depressed. He had a lot of PTSD because he served in Iraq and witnessed a lot of things. I think he was lonely and he started running and he is in incredible shape. He looks like a statue now, honestly. He is another really inspiring person. 

And then I interviewed a family, the dad is Dwight Smith. He is 94. He is going to the Senior Games to play basketball, and his son and granddaughter are going to play pickleball. So they’ve made it a real family affair. 

But you’ll see this is about a lot more than just exercising or staying in shape. It’s about finding purpose and connecting with other people because these athletic endeavors have also created a community for many of these folks. And as you know, loneliness and social isolation is a serious problem, particularly for seniors. They say loneliness is the equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. I think in the pandemic we saw people’s sort of mental acuity suffer because they weren’t around people. So this is just such a joyful experience to see people work toward a goal, find a sense of purpose, and then come together and connect with people and make friends. I just think it’s a fabulous program.

For more wellness wisdom subscribe to The Healthy @Reader’s Digest newsletter and follow The Healthy on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter. Keep reading:

Miranda Manier
Miranda is the Associate Editor for TheHealthy.com and The Healthy section of Reader's Digest magazine. Previously, Miranda was a producer at WNIT, the PBS affiliate in South Bend, Indiana; and the producer in residence for Minneapolis TV news KARE 11, where she won an Upper Midwest Regional Emmy Award for producing gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Derek Chauvin trial. Miranda also interned at Chicago’s PBS station, WTTW, and worked as the managing editor at the Columbia Chronicle at Columbia College. Outside of work, Miranda enjoys acting, board games, and trying her hand at a good vegan dessert recipe. She also loves talking about TV—so tell her what you’re watching!